(Photos courtesy: Ajai Shukla)
The first prototype Weapon Systems Integrated (WSI) version of the Dhruv ALH. HAL will produce 60 ALH-WSIs for the army and 16 for the air force.
The 20 mm cannon, with both vertical and horizontal traverse is clearly visible here.
On the left, you can see the flare dispensors and, next to it, the housing which contains the radar, IR and missile warning receivers.
by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 8th Sept 08
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, Bangalore
Wikipaedia, the popular internet encyclopaedia, lists the Indian Army’s Sonam Post, on the Siachen Glacier, as the world’s highest point reachable by transport. Landing in a helicopter at Sonam is a hair-raising experience. As the shuddering helicopter bears down on the tiny helipad atop a needle of ice at 20,997 feet, the rotor blades struggle to extract lift from the rarefied air. This is the ultimate test for helicopters. But the army’s new Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) has proved that it can land at Sonam, bringing in much larger payloads than the Cheetah helicopters that have laboriously sustained the jawans in Sonam for the last two decades.
Now in hot weather trials in Siachen (yes, Siachen is cold even in summer, but trials conducted in summer are termed hot-weather trials!) another Dhruv will test-land in Sonam, powered by the new Shakti engine, which has been especially designed for India’s extreme altitudes by French company, Turbomeca. The Shakti gives the Dhruv enough power to carry to Sonam four times as much load as the TM333-2B2 engine, which has powered the Dhruv so far.
The successful Dhruv-Shakti partnership underpins an ambitious drive by defence public sector undertaking (DPSU), Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), to build a range of helicopters to meet the diverse needs of India’s military. And the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has recognised HAL’s growing competence in helicopter design by nominating it to design and manufacture half of the 384 light observation helicopters (LOHs) required by India’s military. HAL has been given till 2017 to produce 187 LOHs. Meanwhile, the military’s immediate needs will be met by buying 197 LOHs from the international market.
Business Standard has learned that the MoD has imposed a strict timeline on HAL, including --- for the first time ever --- a penalty for delay. Top HAL sources say that if HAL overshoots the 2017 deadline, the MoD will procure more helicopters from the global manufacturer selected to supply LOHs; HAL’s order will correspondingly reduce.
HAL is confident it will produce the LOH two years ahead of the MoD’s deadline. HAL Chairman, Ashok Baweja explained to Business Standard his company’s plan for completing the LOH by 2015. HAL is already working on the conceptual design of the helicopter, which includes detailed specifications of key systems like the fuel system, the hydraulics system and the cockpit. HAL will design and manufacture the core components like the main rotor, tail rotor, gearbox and weaponry. Meanwhile, HAL will buy less critical sub-systems from specialist manufacturers in the international market.
Mr Baweja explains, “It is wasteful to duplicate the efforts of specialists who make individual systems. For example, there are specialist cockpit houses, which mainly design cockpits. You have Honeywell, you have Rockwell, and you have Thales. Our [HAL’s] role will be that of a top-end designer; we will identify systems and write the software that makes them function together.
“Take fuel systems. Those consist of fuel cells, pumps, cut-off valves, fire protection, etc. We can make all these things. But there are specialist companies that do only fuel systems. All we need to do is to identify them. We’ll control top-end design and we’ll do the certification tests.”
“There is air-conditioning in a helicopter; but should we start designing it? There are half a dozen companies in the world that do air-conditioning, heating, cooling.”
HAL is oozing confidence, coming off two successful designs: the Dhruv ALH which has started selling abroad; and the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), the design for which has just been completed. And they now have a clear concept of the LOH to work upon: a 3-ton helicopter, powered by a single Shakti engine (as compared to the dual-engine Dhruv).
HAL says that, with the LCH design complete, it’s in-house design centre, called the Rotary Wing R&D Centre (RWRDC), is going full steam ahead on the LOH design. A senior designer explains, “Designers work at peak activity until the prototype is designed; then they are free for the next project. So with the LCH prototype ready, the RWRDC is going ahead full steam on the LOH. The design, we estimate, will be ready in a year.”
(Tomorrow: Part II: Soon to fly: India’s Light Combat Helicopter)